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American Indian and Alaska Native Health

Every racial or ethnic group has specific health concerns. Differences in the health of groups can result from:

  • Genetics
  • Environmental factors
  • Access to care
  • Cultural factors

On this page, you'll find links to health issues that affect American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Birth Weight

What is birth weight?

Birth weight is the first weight of your baby, taken just after being born. A low birth weight means that the baby is less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces. A high birth weight means that the baby is more than 8 pounds, 13 ounces.

What can cause low birth weight?

A baby with a low birth weight can be born too small, too early (premature), or both. This can happen for many different reasons. They include:

  • Health problems in the pregnant parent
  • Taking certain medicines during pregnancy
  • Substance use during pregnancy
  • Infections during pregnancy
  • Being pregnant with multiple babies
  • Problems with the placenta, the organ that brings oxygen and nutrients to the baby
  • Having small parents
  • Genetic conditions in the baby
  • Birth defects
What problems can low birth weight cause?

Babies with low birth weight may be more at risk of certain health problems. They include immediate problems, such as:

  • Breathing problems
  • Infections
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Jaundice
  • Trouble keeping warm

There is also a higher risk of longer-term problems, including:

  • Delayed motor and social development
  • Learning disabilities
  • Certain health conditions as an adult, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity
What can cause high birth weight?

Causes of high birth weight can include:

  • Having big parents
  • Diabetes in the pregnant parent
  • Certain genetic conditions
  • Too much weight gain during pregnancy
What problems can high birth weight cause?

High birth weight can be a concern because it can make delivery of the baby difficult and raise the risk of birth injuries. The baby is at higher risk of problems with:

  • Blood sugar
  • Breathing problems
  • Jaundice
Can birth weight problems be prevented?

You may be able to prevent some birth weight problems by:

  • Getting regular checkups during pregnancy
  • Getting the right amount of nutrition and calories during pregnancy
  • Controlling your blood sugar if you have diabetes
  • Avoiding substance use during pregnancy

Celiac Disease

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is a chronic (long-term) digestive and immune disorder that damages your small intestine. The damage may prevent your body from absorbing vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients from the food you eat. This can lead to malnutrition and other serious health problems

Celiac disease is triggered by eating foods that contain gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and other grains. It may also be in other products like vitamins and supplements, hair and skin products, toothpastes, and lip balm.

Celiac disease is different from gluten sensitivity and wheat allergies. Some of the symptoms may be similar, but those conditions don't damage the small intestine.

What causes celiac disease?

The exact cause of celiac disease is not known. Research suggests that celiac disease only happens in people who have certain genes and eat food that contains gluten. Researchers are studying other factors that may play a role in causing the disease.

Who is more likely to develop celiac disease?

Celiac disease is more common if you:

  • Have a family member who has the disease
  • Have Down syndrome, Turner syndrome, or Williams syndrome
  • Are White
  • Are female
What are the symptoms of celiac disease?

The symptoms of celiac disease can be different from person to person. Sometimes the symptoms may come and go. Some people may not notice any symptoms.

Some of the possible symptoms affect your digestive system. Digestive symptoms are more common in children than in adults. The digestive symptoms include:

  • Bloating (feeling fullness or swelling in your belly)
  • Chronic (long-term) diarrhea or greasy, bulky, unusually bad-smelling stool (poop)
  • Constipation
  • Gas
  • Lactose intolerance because of damage to the small intestine
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain in the abdomen (belly)
  • Weight loss in adults, or not enough weight gain in children

Some people with celiac disease have symptoms that affect other parts of the body, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Irritability (in children)
  • Dermatitis herpetiformis, an itchy rash with blisters (mainly in adults)
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Symptoms involving the mouth, such as canker sores or dry mouth
What other problems can celiac disease cause?

Over time, celiac disease can cause other health problems, especially if it is not treated. These problems can include:

  • Malnutrition
  • Anemia, especially iron-deficiency anemia
  • Bone loss
  • Nervous system problems such as headaches, balance problems, or peripheral neuropathy
  • Reproductive problems, such as missed menstrual periods and miscarriages in women and infertility in men and women
How is celiac disease diagnosed?

If you have symptoms of celiac disease, your health care provider will look for signs that you might have celiac disease. To do this, your provider will get your medical and family history and do a physical exam.

If your provider thinks that you could have celiac disease, you will have some tests. Providers most often use blood tests and biopsies of the small intestine to diagnose celiac disease. The biopsy would be done during an upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy. For this procedure, your provider uses an endoscope (a flexible tube with a camera) to see the lining of your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. It also allows your provider to take a sample of tissue for a biopsy.

What are the treatments for celiac disease?

The treatment for celiac disease is following a gluten-free diet for the rest of your life. Sticking with a gluten-free diet will treat or prevent many of the symptoms and other health problems caused by celiac disease. In most cases, it can also heal damage in the small intestine and prevent more damage.

Your provider may refer you to a registered dietician (a nutrition expert) who can help you learn how to eat a healthy diet without gluten. You will also need to avoid all hidden sources of gluten, such as certain supplements, cosmetics, toothpaste, etc. Reading product labels can sometimes help you avoid gluten. If a label doesn't tell you what is in a product, check with the company that makes the product for an ingredients list. Don't just assume that a product is gluten-free if it doesn't mention it.

NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases


If you are overweight or have obesity, losing weight can improve your health. It might also help you prevent weight-related diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and some cancers. A healthy diet is an important part of a weight-loss program. It:

  • May include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products
  • May include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts
  • Goes easy on saturated fats, trans fat, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars

The key to losing weight is to burn more calories than you eat and drink. A diet can help you to do this through portion control. There are many different types of diets. Some, like the Mediterranean diet, describe a traditional way of eating from a specific region. Others, like the DASH eating plan or a diet to lower cholesterol, were designed for people who have certain health problems. But they may also help you to lose weight. There are also fad or crash diets that severely restrict calories or the types of food you are allowed to eat. They may sound promising, but they rarely lead to permanent weight loss. They also may not provide all of the nutrients your body needs.

In addition to a diet, adding exercise into your daily life can help you to lose weight.

NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Endocrine Diseases

Your endocrine system includes eight major glands throughout your body. These glands make hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers. They travel through your bloodstream to tissues or organs. Hormones work slowly and affect body processes from head to toe. These include:

  • Growth and development
  • Metabolism - digestion, elimination, breathing, blood circulation and maintaining body temperature
  • Sexual function
  • Reproduction
  • Mood

If your hormone levels are too high or too low, you may have a hormone disorder. Hormone diseases also occur if your body does not respond to hormones the way it is supposed to. Stress, infection and changes in your blood's fluid and electrolyte balance can also influence hormone levels.

In the United States, the most common endocrine disease is diabetes. There are many others. They are usually treated by controlling how much hormone your body makes. Hormone supplements can help if the problem is too little of a hormone.

If you are thinking about hospice, palliative care, or home health, please do not hesitate to contact us. We will be happy to answer any questions and even visit your home for a free consultation.



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